NEW GEOGRAPHIES OF VISUAL SATIRE- Friday 15th June, Sir Michael Dummett Lecture Theatre, Christ Church, University of Oxford.

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This Friday 15th June I’m co-convening a conference on ‘New Geographies of Visual Satire’ with Dr. Julia Langbein.

The conference seeks to broaden the examination of visual satire beyond the contours of existing scholarship. How can we develop new approaches to parody, pastiche and caricature appropriate to a truly global art history? It has often been claimed that satire plays an important role in a healthy democracy and a vital role in an endangered one. How does it respond to the exigencies of a so-called ‘post-truth’ society? For too long, academics have seen visual satire as means of speaking “truth-to- power,” of indicating a moral or ethical True North. Perhaps our contemporary experience of the uncertain compass of “post-truth” politics can loosen old coordinates and inspire new historical inquiry. How has the rise of new media affected the ability of satire to confront ethical ambiguity and authorial inauthenticity? How have new means of image-circulation reversed centre-periphery dynamics and the flow of comic imagery from the West to the ‘rest’?

We have a very exciting lineup of speakers who will address issues as diverse as visual satire in feminist comics, the locust as visual satire in sinophone Hong Kong, Caricature, beer and the Franco-Prussian War to remediation in Egyptian digital caricatures. No registration is required and all are welcome.

Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) Annual Conference, Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization

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On Saturday I attended the Royal Anthropological Institute’s (RAI) Annual Conference, which was held at the British Museum and SOAS and this year addressed the theme of ‘Art, Materiality and Representation‘. Along with Emilie Lefebvre, a post-doctoral researcher in visual anthropology, we convened a panel on ‘Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization‘. The aim of the panel was to examine the practices by which artists and media-makers from non-Western contexts are progressively re-materializing digital content in order to increase the exclusivity, cultural capital, and visibility of their aesthetic and cultural creations.

At a time in which our experience of cultural artefacts is often physically removed by digitization, this panel seeks papers that consider the practices, politics, and affects of re-materializing artworks from diverse geographical perspectives. The process of de- to re-materialization has been referred to by David Joselit as a ‘comedy of matter’; a situation in which the most ”immaterial” of formats—digital information—has paradoxically led to a proliferation of material states. This metastasizing of media formats can in effect render a quantum of data into a printed photograph, a 3-D print or an analogue sculpture, facilitating a variety of practices from bootlegging and creative appropriation to the return of cultural heritage. These processes of re-materialization have subsequently led to the formation of ‘agile objects’: cultural artefacts whose value may have originally resided in their authentic forms but today are revered for their capacity as digital files to take on several distinct forms simultaneously.

While these practices among artists, media-makers and museums have been the focus of increasing scholarly attention, their theorization and prevalence beyond Western contexts remains largely unexplored. Redressing this imbalance, we premise that art historical and anthropological examinations of re-materialization can provide unique perspectives about the politics of cultural capital from the Near East to East Asia, Australia to Latin America. This multi-disciplinary panel therefore invites papers that consider the transposition of digital content into objects of material, commercial and collectable value, exploring the capacity of these ‘agile objects’ to shape artistic and museum practices.

Our panel critically addressed re-materialization from an interdisciplinary perspective with papers exploring

* The value ascribe to digital models of Māori taonga

* The material loss and recreation of the Great Auk within the context of the Anthropocene

* The notion of noise and materalization of womanhood in South Africa

* The material configuration of nude bodies in modern Chinese art

* The re-materialization of endangered plants from around the world

With this vast scope, we had a very lively discussion on re-materialization and the capacity of ‘agile objects’ to shape artistic and museum practices in non-Western contexts.

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Jennifer Cattermole from the University of Otago discusses the implications of re-materialising taonga pūoro (traditional Māori musical instruments)

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Artist Darlene Farris-LaBar discussing how emerging technology brings greater opportunities for artists who are seeking new ways to communicate to larger and diverse audiences.

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Di Wang from the University of Oxford discusses the materiality of the body in modern Chinese art and visual culture, 1919-1949.

 

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Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen) and Gro Ween (University of Oslo) presented a paper on ‘Species extinction: art, materiality and the representation of material loss in the age of the Anthropocene’

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Some of Darlene Farris Labar’s amazing 3-D printed seed pods

 

Liu Shiyuan’s ‘As Simple as Clay’: Photography and the Aesthetics of the Search Engine

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In 2013, Liu Shiyuan created ‘As Simple as Clay’ a large scale photographic installation composed of over 2500 individual photographs (c-prints), each measuring 20 x 21cm. Presented in the high modern aesthetic of the grid and visually riffing on the algorithmic aesthetic of the search engine, the installation offered a seemingly endless profusion of photographic variations on a single theme: Clay.

Moving through the identically dimensioned photographic spread, one which visually asserts the infinite multiplicity of digital files in our current information age, the viewer is confronted not just with endless images of clay but also photographs of a vast array of clay-like objects: still shots of blocks of butter, lumps of putty, round spherical balls of dough, bars of glistening soap, the wobbling sheen of a pana cotta, translucent cubes of tofu, as well as objects which seem to bear little or no relation to clay, images that are seemingly random, anomalous even: the viscous gloss of liquefied chocolate, plumped cushions, loafs of bread, modelling tools, cosmetic foundation, these sit side by side with photographs of hands engaged with clay: fingers kneading, sculpting and shaping, raw material twisting under the exertion of being physically shaped, contoured, carved and cast. Some images merely show the trace of human activity, the indexical mark of a fingerprint or the ghostly imprint of an absent knuckle, a gloved finger rolling a clay penny, two hands clasped in a tentative handshake.

All these images were scavenged entirely from the internet, the result of the artist entering the term ‘clay’ into Google image search, originally in Chinese, then in English, Danish and an ever expanding host of languages, noting the visual variations engendered by this linguistic manipulation. The images sourced from these search results were culled from commercial websites, photo banks, image aggregate services, social media, craft blogs and user-generated content sites such as Pinterest. After they were selected and extracted, the background of each photograph was digitally erased, replaced by a homogenous and homogenising backdrop of Chroma Key Blue (the shade of blue most commonly used in blue screen: the visual effects/post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on colour hues. While this ‘universalizing’ impulse flattens each photograph and stresses their seriality, it also serves to obliterate and dissolve any information conveyed by these photographs original contexts, effectively untethering them from any commercial, didactic, or expressive function.

One could argue that ‘As Simple as Clay’ is therefore above all else a work of search engine art, one which playfully appropriates and ultimately embraces the frozen collage of the Google image search, delivering up static, silent screenshots of countless photographic remakes of ostensibly one and the same thing.

What’s ultimately at stake in Liu Shiyuan’s avid embrace of the algorithmic aesthetic of the search engine? In this talk, part of the Oxford Photography Seminar,  I focused on two primary vectors for consideration, exploring the inherent tension in the work between the material and the immaterial, as well as the interplay between text and image.